Environmental Film Festival gives us much to ponder

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The Environmental Film Festival enters its sixth year, this time virtually, on Thursday, May 21, at the M.V. Film Center. The films will be available for streaming until May 27. “Nature as Inspiration,” the title of this year’s informative event, is co-sponsored by the Vineyard Conservation Society. Film Society founder and executive director Richard Paradise says he has tried to choose films that are particularly relevant to the Vineyard.

Some of the seven available documentaries are disturbing, but there are also plenty that are optimistic. Here is one of the concerning ones, and one that’s hopeful, plus briefs on the others.

‘The Story of Plastic’

The Vineyard has been successful at reducing its reliance on plastics by banning single-use plastic bags and replacing plastic straws with paper ones. A school group aims to rid towns of small plastic bottles, and Cronig’s Market is working to eliminate plastic packaging.

“The Story of Plastic” gives an in-depth look at the role plastics play in our lives. The public is aware of and concerned about the plastic gyres in our oceans, but the problem is far more extensive. The film suggests that an important consideration is who makes plastic products, and why. Gas and oil corporations make them, and as the demand for gas and oil power have been diminished by renewables like wind and solar, so these companies have switched to making plastic products to maintain their income stream. They have worked hard to make customers believe they need plastic products, but the issue is not one of demand on our part; instead it is their need to supply us. As the buildup of plastics has polluted our environment and filled our oceans and other water bodies, gas and oil companies claim the problem is caused by improper waste management. In other words, we need to recycle more efficiently.

Only 2 percent of discarded plastic can be effectively recycled. Of the rest of the annual 200 million metric tons, 32 percent stays in the environment, and 40 percent gets burned. Once the U.S. began to max out its recycled plastic, it exported it to China. But China has banned import of all recycled plastic, so the U.S. is now sending it to places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. There the plastic debris has built up along waterways and in dumps, and the film’s images of these accumulations are shocking. The next step is incineration. Not an issue? Incineration of plastics releases poisonous gases into the atmosphere, causing respiratory problems, skin infections, and cancer.

The evidence continues to pile up. In one study, plastic particles appeared in 83 percent of tap water samples, and in another they showed up in 93 percent of bottled water. Whales and fish end up with plastic in their guts. Passage of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts gas and oil companies from environmental and health regulations. A giant petrochemical corridor being built through Ohio and Pennsylvania does not use natural gas in pipelines for heating, but for export to make plastics.

There is some good news. Concerned citizens are fighting back, and “The Story of Plastic” suggests how. Some of the ways include ending government subsidies to gas and oil companies, and making them pay the cost of recycling. The proposals aren’t all punitive. One example is to make plastic products more effectively biodegradable. The Vineyard is on the way to finding solutions to its dependence on plastics, and this film will help us continue the fight.

‘2040’

This Australian documentary examines the effects of climate change over the next 20 years, and explores already existing technologies that can reverse its negative effects. Director Damon Gameau, who also stars in the film, is motivated by keeping his 4-year-old daughter Zoe safe for the future. The result is a positive look at ending impending disaster, and especially at the contribution of ideas from children.

One existing technology is self-driving cars, already available in Singapore. In New York, 20 percent of emissions come from cars, and approximately 2 billion vehicles are expected to be on the world’s roads by 2040. If ride-sharing of self-driving vehicles occurs, there will be fewer cars, and communities will own cars rather than individuals owning them. Gameau argues that this system will reclaim cities for people.

Today, much of our food arrives by importing items from thousands of miles away. As it stands now, fish goes from Norway to China, and then to the U.S. Gameau proposes growing food on rooftops and in small garden plots, making local, fresh foods more readily available. The idea is to encourage people not to eat sweets or meat, for much healthier diets. In Victoria, Australia, plants are used to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Instead of giant, one-crop farms, smaller ones that mix different plants lead to healthier soil and fewer pesticides. If cattle are allowed to graze in these fields instead of eating grain and living in feedlots, meat becomes healthier. Think of the grass-fed beef already available.

A way to prevent the increasing warmth of ocean water, and its acidification, is to grow more seaweed, and rotate cool water up to the surface. That process draws down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which leads to a reduction in global warming. In that case, more marine life will return. In Bangladesh, decentralized electricity grids relying on solar energy enable families to share power. Families can build their own power source, a democratic and efficient way to operate. This microgrid is already springing up in other countries. Each home, interconnected with others, has a battery that allows it to store electricity, sending it to other families who need it when necessary, and creating a wholly sustainable system.

In “2040,” children share their ideas about improving the environment and reducing climate change. The film is in many ways directed at other children and schools. While some of Gameau’s ideas seem overly optimistic, his positive vision of the future is encouraging and hopeful.

More documentaries

Many of the other films in the Environmental Film Festival are heartwarming examples of the ways people are operating environmentally in today’s world. “The Woman Who Loves Giraffes” tells the story of Anne Innis Dagg, who traveled to South Africa in 1956. Her study of giraffes and the 16mm footage she took made important contributions to the scientific world, and she has returned to examine today’s giraffes. “WhaleWisdom” looks at the fascinating behavior of humpback and other whales. “The Love Bugs” follows the investigations of more than 1 million insects from 70 countries by a charming entomologist couple. “Emptying the Skies” concerns the horrifying poaching of songbirds in Cyprus, and “Inhabit” examines regenerative farming.

In addition to these feature documentaries, there will be a series of shorts, including one on whales by local filmmakers Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth. The annual MVRHS Student Art Show returns virtually during the Environmental Film Festival. Q and A sessions have been recorded with discussions of many of the films.